Thought is our main ally, it allows us to anticipate problems, look for solutions and manage setbacks. However, it is also our first enemy because it pushes us to jump to conclusions, see problems where there are none, and dramatize.
Once catastrophic thinking has kicked in, we raise a storm in a teacup and block our ability to activate two essential life skills: calming down and resolving difficulties.
How to stop seeing problems everywhere?
Drawing negative conclusions and dramatizing is often our brain’s attempt to protect us from adversity. It tries to anticipate possible dangers to design action plans that allow us to avoid them or minimize their impact.
However, when that completely natural tendency gets out of hand, it can generate a negativity bias that leads us to focus on the worst, giving more importance to negative information.
The good news is that we don’t have to get caught in the web of catastrophic thoughts that generate a completely unnecessary stress. With a little awareness and effort, we can free ourselves from this pattern, stop seeing problems where there are none, and cultivate a more positive mindset.
1. Develop self-awareness
Recognizing our tendency to dramatize and draw catastrophic conclusions is the first step to breaking the cycle. Pay more attention to your thoughts and reactions in different contexts and situations. What do you think when something starts to go wrong? How do you react to a setback? Do you stay calm or does your mind race imagining the worst?
It is important that you identify the mental patterns that push you to draw negative and catastrophic conclusions. Realizing their existence will prevent these dangers from hanging around in your mind, growing bigger and bigger and becoming more threatening. When you know that many of those worries, anxieties and fears are fundamentally a fruit of your mind, you will be able to put a stop to them.
2. Challenge those negative thoughts
Once you’ve identified your negative thought patterns, put them to the test. Find out if there is concrete evidence that supports your conclusions. You may find that you are relying on assumptions or interpretations of facts. Ask yourself: is this problem realistic? Am I basing my thoughts on facts or feelings? Is there any evidence? Could I be misunderstanding the facts? Don’t assume that your thoughts are a reflection of reality, start treating them as hypotheses that you must test.
Remember that on many occasions catastrophic thoughts come from fear and insecurity. They have a more emotional and subjective basis than reality. We often invent stories that don’t match reality, but when we challenge those thoughts, we can begin to change our perspective and the way we react to them.
3. Apply cognitive restructuring
Cognitive restructuring is a psychological technique that involves actively changing negative thought patterns. This practice is particularly useful for rewiring the brain and channeling it toward a more constructive and adaptive mode of thinking.
Therefore, instead of assuming the worst and seeing problems everywhere, look for alternative explanations and more positive interpretations. For example, instead of breaking down at the first setback and concluding that you won’t be able to achieve it, you can approach the matter from another perspective: “It’s a challenging project, but I will do my best to get it done.” It is not about falling into toxic optimism, but nor is it about sinking into the most irrational pessimism. The key is to find a motivating middle ground.
4. Focus on the present
The tendency to dramatize and see problems where there are none occurs when our mind jumps to the future imagining the worst possible scenarios. Ultimately, catastrophic thoughts are nothing more than a reflection of our worry about what could happen. For that reason, focusing on the present will help you exorcise that habit.
Cultivate mindfulness and focus on the here and now. Pay attention to your surroundings, breathe deeply, or practice mindfulness meditation. By connecting with the present, you can free yourself from the cycle of negative thoughts that drag you into the future, especially if you look for reasons to feel grateful.
5. Ask yourself what is the worst that can happen
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to push away a catastrophic thought, it comes to your mind again and again. It is a phenomenon that in Psychology is known as the “rebound effect.” In those cases, applying paradoxical intention may be the best way to stop worrying. The idea is to ask yourself “What would happen if…?” or “What’s the worst that could happen?”
Imagine the worst possibilities ades, but always sticking to facts and logic. You are likely to discover that you are a victim of a cognitive distortion that makes you see reality through gray glasses. This exercise could also give you the dose of self-confidence you need to calm the fears, anxieties and worries that make you see problems everywhere because it will show you that you have the tools to deal with the worst scenarios and get out of them strengthened.
In short, take your time to reflect on all those problems that your mind invents. Try to counteract the tendency to focus on the negative and catastrophic thinking by arming yourself with logic and a more positive attitude. This will help you cope better with adversity and prevent you from drowning in a glass of water.